Sedges for Lawn Alternatives

Our ongoing series, Sedges Make Sense, continues with Carex that work as alternatives to turf grass lawns. Sedges add function and beauty to landscapes, and they’re growing in popularity. Follow our series to find out why they make sense for your growing program, green infrastructure projects, and for the landscape market.

We appreciate a lush patch of turf grass—it’s perfect for playing games or lounging with a picnic lunch. But keeping that lawn looking ideal takes a lot of resources. Mowing, watering, fertilizing all have a cost, in dollars and in ecological terms.

With landscape areas where foot traffic isn’t regular, try a planting that provides a low, green, grassy look but needs fewer resources to thrive. Several sedges lend themselves to lawn alternatives and make the most sense in shady or partially sunny areas where turf grasses are hard to establish.

The best-selling Pennsylvania Sedge (C. pensylvanica) spreads slowly via rhizomes to form a verdant carpet. The narrow, delicate foliage lies in graceful swirls. Native to the eastern half of North America and parts of the Midwest, it’s common in upland woods, forest clearings, and savannas. Because it hosts several species of caterpillars, it’s an obvious choice for pollinator gardens.

Pennsylvania Sedge in the North Carolina mountains (L) and in Hoffman Nursery's dry shade garden (R).
Pennsylvania Sedge in the North Carolina mountains (L) and Hoffman Nursery’s shade garden (R).

Pennsylvania Sedge does best in well-drained, acidic soils with consistent moisture. However, it tolerates dry conditions once established. We find it surprisingly resilient in our dry shade garden here at the nursery. This is one of the best options for creating a green carpet in shady areas where turf grass is hard to establish. C. pensylvanica can tolerate mowing one or two times a season, but we suggest leaving it natural to take advantage of its lush look.

While Pennsylvania Sedge forms a carpet, Grassland Sedge (C. divulsa) creates a distinctive look with mounds of narrow, arching, deep green foliage. As a bunching grass, the crown will expand over time, but it stays in place. It can be planted close together for dense coverage or spaced more widely to show off its graceful habit.

Grassland Sedge is a smart choice for dry, shady areas. It handles competition from tree roots in established landscapes, a notoriously difficult spot to keep covered. Some sedges “melt” in the heat and humidity of our central North Carolina summers, but this Carex has sailed through with flying colors. It’s not fussy about soil type, either.

Grassland Sedge thrives in the dry shade under established trees.
Grassland Sedge thrives in the dry shade under established trees.

For a more naturalistic look, we love Cherokee Sedge (C. cherokeensis). It’s taller and has broader foliage than the fine-leaved sedges noted above. In spring, flowering spikelets hang delicately from stems that rise above the foliage. It’s a Southeastern native that thrives in moist conditions, like floodplain forests and stream banks. But it also occurs in forested sites with drier conditions. C. cherokeensis spreads slowly via short rhizomes and will reseed under favorable conditions. It is a bit wilder and less formal than the others we noted, but it’s been impressive in our trial gardens.

Like other cool season plants, Carex slow down and experience some dieback in summer. Last summer was hot and dry for us in central North Carolina. Cherokee Sedge managed to stay greener and bounce back in the fall more quickly than did other sedges. It’s also mostly evergreen for us through the winter and is highly deer resistant. This is a tough sedge with exciting potential.

While none of these sedges will look identical to mowed turf grass, they offer a grasslike ground cover that is beautiful, adaptive, and easier to maintain. For more options, see our list of sedges for lawn alternatives.

The market for better, more ecologically sound plantings is growing. Sedges makes sense if you’re looking to grow, too.


If you’d like similar effects for sunnier locations, check out our full list of lawn alternatives.

Get Current Availability:   Excel Download |PDF Download